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Colombia tour post mortem

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Colombia tour post mortem

Old 02-15-19, 04:56 PM
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axolotl
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Colombia tour post mortem

I returned this week from a couple of weeks of touring & hiking in Colombia. I looked at as many trip narratives as I could find while planning my tour, as well as commercial tour routes, but there were no obvious choices. I noticed that many of the cyclists who were biking the length of South America often rode in one of the two north-south valleys that cut through much of Colombia. But those valleys would have avoided the national parks, nature reserves, and pretty towns I wanted to visit. Also, because those two valleys are at a much lower elevation, the riding would be in very hot weather. I ultimately decided to ride in the Zona Cafetera south of Medellin because it's a pretty region with some nice towns, nature reserves, and national parks. That put most of my riding between 5,000 ft (~1,500m) and 8,000 ft (2,400m) which would also have comfortable temperatures given the proximity to the equator. But there would also be the added challenge of riding at altitude.

I wanted to get some decent maps (preferably topographic) in Medellin before I started riding. I went to a governmental ("IGAC") office, and as I had been warned, they were out-of-stock of half of the maps I sought. I also downloaded maps to the maps.me app on my Android phone. I bought a Colombian SIM card and a pre-paid 20 day package for only about US $7. I used my phone mainly for data, WhatsApp calls, and occasional phone calls within Colombia. (The only problem was the multiple text messages and phone calls I got from businesses trying to collect on bills incurred by whoever used to have the phone number I was assigned.)

I took a bus to get out of, and back to Medellin. The scenery was gorgeous everywhere I went. I speak decent-but-not-great Spanish, and Colombian Spanish is usually easy to understand. The paved road quality was pretty good but there was little or no shoulder most of the time. I met 2 Dutch cyclists on my first day of riding and they told me that they had found virtually no paved roads that had little traffic. However, drivers were respectful of cyclists. I saw a lot of Colombian cyclists on training rides or recreational rides every day.

The region I biked in is pretty wet, though Jan-Feb are much drier than most months. Nonetheless, it rained a lot, but usually at night or in the evening. I only got caught once in the rain while riding, and that downpour only lasted 45 minutes and I was able to quickly find shelter. However, unpaved roads were mostly somewhat-to-extremely muddy, so I avoided them, just as the Dutch riders did. They warned me to not attempt to ride the 24 km (15 miles) between Jardin and Riosucio because the unpaved road was so muddy. They took a bus, and so did I. The bus took 3 full hours to cover that short distance!

The biggest challenge was that every day involved a significant amount of climbing. I've always been a decent climber, but altitude makes the climbing harder. A good example is the day I rode from Filandia (a pretty village next to a fantastic nature reserve) to the Valle del Cocora (gorgeous valley next to a national park). The two places are merely 20 miles (32 km) apart but it felt like I rode 3 times that distance. The day's ride involved climbing, dropping, climbing, dropping, and a final major climb. All of the climbs began at over 5,000 feet (~1500 m). The first climb was about 650 ft (~200 m), the 2nd climb 800 ft (~250 m), and the final climb about 1,650 ft (500 m). It was exhausting. I ended the day at about 8,000 ft (~2,400 m) but only about 1,500 ft (450m) higher from what I began at because of all of the descents.

I really enjoyed my trip, but the cycling was very difficult. The hiking in cloud forests and humid tropical forests was fantastic. Colombians are very friendly. Food & accommodations were good and inexpensive (I wasn't camping). Colombia has some of the prettiest scenery I've seen anywhere. By comparison, however, when I toured in the lake & volcano region of Chile & northern Patagonia in Argentina, I enjoyed gorgeous scenery there, too, but with much easier cycling at lower altitudes.
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Old 02-15-19, 07:09 PM
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djb
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thanks ax, Ive been thinking of colombia as a possibility sometime, and all your info is good to hear. I too prefer the altitudes you mention, and a pretty tuypical Guat or Honduras day had about a 1000m of climbing, so I know what you mean, but I can appreciate and like being in mountains, even if its a arse kicking all day. Viva mtb triple cranks and just plugging along at 6,7,8kph

I havent even taken any time to look into routes, will only do that when and if a trip happens, but may ask you at some point for more route details, but don't hold your respiracion.

hear you on avoiding the muddy stuff, that doesnt hold much endearment for me. Bus 3 hours for 24 klicks, can imagine what it was like, even with frequent people pick ups and drop offs....
cheers
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Old 02-15-19, 11:43 PM
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MarcusT
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I was concerned something had happened by your title.
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